Issue Brief: Major Arms Sales to the UAE

UAE’s Largest Arms Package of the Trump Era, Turkey Wants to Discuss S-400 Deal, Congress and the Libya Arms Embargo & more



November 16, 2020

Issue Brief: Major Arms Sales to the UAE

Security Assistance Monitor, November 2020

A new Issue Brief from the Security Assistance Monitor looks at the Trump administration’s recent announcement of an unprecedented $23 billion in proposed arms sales to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite grave concerns regarding Abu Dhabi’s human rights record and participation in a number of regional conflicts. 

The three proposed sales notified to Congress on Nov. 10, represent one of the largest arms packages ever offered to the UAE, and more than three times the value of all other foreign military sales offers made to the UAE under the Trump Administration combined.  More importantly, the particular arms on offer are especially sensitive and include advanced weaponry never before sold to an Arab Gulf country, including weapons that could directly impact civilian protection in the region. The proposed sale includes 50 fight generation F-35 fighter jets, 18 strike capable MQ9b Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, and thousands of munitions. 

The Issue Brief looks at the serious strategic and human rights concerns raised by the potential sale. The UAE has been actively engaged in conflicts across the region, particularly in Yemen and Libya, and has been accused of conducting strikes against civilians,  diverting  US arms to extremist groups, and defying a UN arms embargo on Libya, among other concerns.  

Though the sale of the F-35 jets has garnered the most public attention, the report notes that the armed drones and munitions pose the gravest risk to civilians in the region. These arms on offer include the very sorts of weapons found to have been used in strikes against civilians in Yemen and Libya. 

Though Congress could conceivably block the sale, lawmakers have conceded they don’t believe they have the votes to do so. 

Read the full Issue Brief here and check out the data fact below for more details. 

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts


Biden reassures U.S. allies in calls with leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia

Reuters, November 11

In President Elect Biden’s first calls to foreign leaders, he reassured the leaders of Australia, Japan, and South Korea of the US commitment to re-engage in the collective security of the greater Pacific region. Biden expressed his desire to strengthen bilateral security partnerships with key US allies in the region.  

Turkey again calls for joint U.S. study on Russian S-400 systems

Reuters, November 12

Out of fears of possible sanctions from a future Biden administration, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi announced Turkey’s willingness to discuss American concerns about the compatibility of the F-35 fighter jets and the Russian S-400 missile system. 

Australia to prosecute troops for war crimes in Afghanistan

AP News, November 12

Australia announced it will begin investigating and prosecuting war crimes potentially committed by its armed forces in Afghanistan. The controversial move comes as the country looks to honor its military for serving but also uphold its commitment to human rights.  

The Clock is Ticking On F-35, Drone Sale to UAE

Defense, November 11

The Trump administration’s recent $23.4 B weapons sale to the UAE – including F-35s, armed drones, & bombs and missiles – is unlikely to be successfully vetoed in Congress during this small objection window. CIP’s William Hartung states, “chances of them getting a veto-proof majority in both houses is probably nil.”

Senators press Trump administration on Libya arms embargo

The Washington Post, November 10

In light of widespread weapons violations, senators pressured the State Dept. to reaffirm its commitment to a UN arms embargo to Libya and prevent any U.S.-made equipment from being used in the civil conflict.  


Research, Analysis, and Opinion


‘Build Back Better’ should mean reducing contractor influence over the Pentagon budget

Responsible Statecraft, November 11

Biden’s platform and Sustainable Defense Task Force point out that the pandemic is a greater security threat than any military threat, which should be reflected in the government’s budget distribution. But thus far, a Biden Pentagon appears that it will continue its relationship with defense contractors as did the Trump and Obama administrations, says Mandy Smithberger. Read to find out why. 

Arms Sales To The UAE Could Make U.S. Responsible For More Deaths Of Civilians In Yemen And Libya

Amnesty International USA, November 9

In light of an unprecedented U.S. weapons package of armed drones and advanced fighter jets, Amnesty International urges the U.S. to stop the sale of “all arms, equipment and military assistance” to the UAE that are at risk of contributing to human rights abuses in Yemen and Libya. 

The Israel Lobby’s ‘QME’ Scam, November 10

Israeli QME was originally designed to balance power in the Middle East, but Grant Smith claims that the Israeli lobby might just be pushing too far this time, using the QME argument to gain veto power over U.S. arms export control and drain U.S. tax dollars. 


From the U.S. Government

Department of Defense

Major Arms Sale: United Arab Emirates –  MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft

November 10, 2020

Estimated cost of $2.97 billion

Major Arms Sale: United Arab Emirates –  F-35 Joint Strike Fighters

November 10, 2020

Estimated cost of $10.4 billion. 

Major Arms Sale: United Arab Emirates –  Munitions, Sustainment and Support

November 10, 2020

Estimated cost of $10.0 billion. 


Data Fact of the Week:

Foreign Military Sales offers to  the UAE Since 2009

The graphic above illustrates foreign military sales notifications to the UAE since 2009, offering some scale and context to the $23 billion in sales proposed on Nov. 10.  

The most recent proposed sale of advanced fighter jets, drones, and munitions, eclipses all other foreign military sales made by the Trump administration to the UAE, and raises serious human rights and civilian protection concerns.

To read SAM’s full Issue Brief on the proposed sale, click here

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